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July 29, 2017

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Hiking Da Tzukeng Old Trail to recall "gold fever” in Taiwan

The great popularity enjoyed by the Gold Ecological Museum at Jinguashi (金瓜石) since it opened a couple of years ago is proof that the gold rush era continues to exert a strong pull on the public's imagination. However, countless other long-forgotten miners also risked their lives toiling to dig out another far less romantic, but extremely profitable mineral from beneath the steep, grassy hills of the area. Why else would they call this substance, which we commonly call coal, 'black gold'?

The horizontal mineshafts, mineral lines and ruined buildings of long abandoned mines pepper the jungle-covered hills of Taipei County (台北縣), and industrial archeologists and curious explorers alike will find these areas bring up some fascinating discoveries (although entering the unstable mine shafts themselves is, of course, very dangerous). There are intriguing remains to be found in many places, but the Jiufen (九份)-Jinguashi area offers perhaps the most interesting possibilities, offering a glimpse into the world of not only gold and coal mining, but memories of the area's greatest mineral wealth, copper, and the tragic stories associated with it.

Regular buses from both Taipei and Keelung (基隆) terminate in Jinguashi, where it would be easy to spend the whole day exploring the Gold Museum, taking a trip down a restored and completely safe mineshaft, and examining the ruined buildings of several generations of copper and gold miners. If the inevitable weekend crowds become overwhelming, however, head out of the village before the afternoon crowds arrive, and after a quick look at the even more touristy "gold rush" village of Jiufen, clear out, taking one of the short footpaths such as the Penshan Trail up into the hills above, to connect with local route 102, which snakes southwards, cutting through the grassy heights.

Immediately after the road rounds the pass at the highest point of the hills (stop to enjoy the great view here) look out for a large sign on the right, marking the trailhead of the scenically, geologically and historically fascinating Da Tzukeng Old Trail (大粗坑古道).

Keep your head held high and eyes fixed on the view for the first section of the old trail, as the route starts rather underwhelmingly with a lengthy march along a tarmac track. After 10-15 minutes, an elaborate and very long flight of blindingly white concrete stairs defaces the hillside like some monstrous carbuncle; an absurdly inappropriate piece of engineering unforgivably plopped into the middle of this prime slice of scenic countryside. Once at the bottom of the stairs, however, nature finally takes control and an easy but very scenic walk of about 40 minutes follows a lovely stream of cascading, crystal-clear water downhill all the way toward the infant Keelung River in the valley far below.

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